Yesterday marked International Women’s Day (IWD), a day that honours the economic, social and political achievements of women. With this year’s theme being ‘make it happen’, we talk to two entrepreneurs who have done just that.

Our 2014 eDNA report revealed that the ratio of women (49%) in business is just 3% behind men (51%). But while the advancement of women in business is clearly taking place, it’s often still quite difficult for women with a great business idea to begin their startup journey. This was all too true for Joni Farthing, founder of Women Outside The Box.

After experiencing difficulties finding women to set up business with, Farthing set up a networking event with 100 women on International Women’s Day in March 2012. It was here she saw the opportunity to scale up such an offering, and launch Women Outside The Box, an online platform supporting and encouraging women to achieve business success through networking events.Her first inaugural Festival of Female Entrepreneurs, attracted more than 1,000 aspiring female entrepreneurs.

How can more women be encouraged to strive and succeed, and what lessons can be learnt from the female approach to business?

It’s about approaching business in a unique way

Joni’s dedicated to encouraging women to enter the market in a fun and disruptive way. For many female entrepreneurs, like Joni, it’s important to remain determined in a male dominated industry. “Most of life is still male-dominated, and entrepreneurship is not much different. I want my daughter to inherit a world that has shifted a little in her favour, so nothing will stop me continuing with my enterprise.”

Jude Ower, founder and CEO of Playmob, always wanted to work in the games/tech industry. “Being in male dominated industries is something I’m just used to now.  I think determination comes from being passionate about what you do and driven to make a change and solve problems,” says Jude.

“There are more women in the games industry now than ever before, which is brilliant. But my determination has always stayed the same, whether surrounded by men or women. One key element that helps is to surround yourself with people who are passionate about what they do and are equally determined. In my industry, there are lots of people like this. It’s infectious.”

The investment-gender divide

According to the Office of National Statistics, the number of women becoming self-employed has significantly increased in the past year. There has been a 34% change, from 2009 to 2014, in the number and percentage of self-employed women. Although the number of women in self-employment is increasing at a faster rate than the number of men, men still dominate the self-employment field.

With more women going into business and the number of female entrepreneurs on the rise, things are looking good for women. But there’s still a divide. In a report by the Institute for Public Policy Research and Professor Noreena Hertz, it suggests that banks discriminate against women entrepreneurs asking for loans.

“My greatest challenge has been raising funding. A large percentage of investment in start-ups goes to men. Most investors are men too. So, getting them to see that a product aimed at women in business reaches a massive market is difficult. But investment is the lifeblood of a digital product and startup in its first two years whilst it gains traction and grows its reach before getting the cash flow that generates profits,” says Joni.

If research, such as Hertz’s, suggests that women are being discriminated against when applying for finance, then how do we advance? Often it’s breaking from tradition and seeking every opportunity available to you. “We were lucky to have met two angels at networking events – when fundraising, networking is so important. Meet new people and build relationships. After securing our first angel and seed investment, the rest of the capital came from doing just this, meeting people at events, getting out there and talking about what you are working on. If you believe in your idea and are passionate about it, then the rest will follow,” says Jude.

Think big not small, think fast not slow

“Find an advisory team or co-founders and look for investors. This applies even more to digital businesses, which can be copied within a few hours. You need to scale fast to ‘take the space’. That means investment – money, expertise and energy – and it’s unlikely you have enough of all of these if you work alone,” says Joni.

This is something that Jude echoes, “get out there and talk to people – building up your network and learning from people too, is a big help. Having people you can call on for advice is key. If you’re looking to get into gaming/tech, I’d suggest attending events or contacting people you admire in the sector. Learning as much as you can about the industry and the influencers is really important. But the key thing is to just get started  – because if you have a great idea and don’t begin pursuing it, then someone else will.”

Have the confidence and conviction to succeed

If you’re met with obstacles along the way, how do you continue to strive? “As girls we often get love and praise from parents and teachers when we do things carefully and well. As women we tend to continue working like this. We want people to praise us and we want to do things to perfection. Sadly this works against us in business. As entrepreneurs we have to get our idea out as quickly as we can when it’s in a state that is saleable but not perfect. Rather than praise, we need to look for sales as validation,” says Joni.

One piece of advice entrepreneurs are often given is to work whole-heartedly on their idea. For Joni, “the picture of the entrepreneur working around the clock has become today’s equivalent of the 20th century’s ‘starving artist in a garret’. Actually most entrepreneurs keep the day job for as long as possible and work on their idea in the evenings. I would certainly counsel this. Keep the salary for as long as possible while perfecting your idea.”

Maximise the opportunities available to you

For women looking to make their mark in business, often it’s the same prescribed advice for any entrepreneur. But by their very nature, women often feel very passionate about their idea. They often want to change the world for the better. “This is going to be a massive boom for society as more female entrepreneurs enter the market,” says Joni.

However, entrepreneurship is about investors, shareholders and business planning too. So it’s important to venture into business with a clear idea of how you will make money from your idea and how you will make this a viable business investment for those prepared to invest in you.

For Joni and Jude, they’ve been able to do just that. In just two years, Playmob has raised almost $900k for charity, while growing the business eight times year-on-year. Jude has also recently been named one of ‘The Ones to Watch in 2015’ by Sir Richard Branson.

Meanwhile, off the back of WOTB success, Joni has been working on a new venture. Sourceabl, the world’s first digital advertising platform connecting the growing market of women running small businesses with the freelancers and companies who want to provide business products and services to them. Sourceabl went live on 8th March – International Women’s Day 2015.

Find out more about Jude and Playmob and Joni and WOTB by reading their interviews on the Small Business Star hub. 

Are you a successful female entrepreneur? Tell us your story in the comments or on Twitter @HiscoxUK.